After she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Dana Scott wanted to recuperate in the only way that she knew how: by staying active.
Ignoring concerns from friends and family, Scott set goals for herself every step of the way, from diagnosis through surgery to one year post-op. She had been a basketball coach for 20 years at Indian Creek High School, still ran and played tennis for fun and liked to have an active lifestyle.
Just three days before she was to run in the annual OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon with her son, she received news that immediately made her stop running: She had cancer.
But within two months of finishing her treatment, Scott was back on the tennis court, and within nine months she ran the mini. Though her activity level led to some struggles, she credits it with getting her life back to normal.
In December 2012, Scott started feeling like she had a stomach ache. The pain would go away, and she assumed the issue was bloating or maybe she was gaining weight. But by May 2013, the stomach aches were constant and the pain was so great that she felt she should see a doctor. It was three days before she was supposed to run in the mini-marathon with her son Taylor Kinney. The two had run together in the mini-marathon the year before, and that was their tradition.
Scott went to a general practitioner’s office, where a doctor asked if she had been doing 2,000 sit-ups a night. Scott said no, and the doctor said she needed to get a scan.
“I didn’t know who to see. I don’t even go to the doctor hardly ever at all,” Scott said.
She ended up getting paired with Dr. Wafic ElMasri, a doctor in the gynecologic cancer care division of Community Health Network. ElMasri informed her she had ovarian cancer, which kills about 70 percent of people who are diagnosed with it, Scott said.
“Basically, at that time, there’s always hope, but it was just kind of like, ‘What do I do now?’” Scott said.
Scott considered getting a will written and also thought about how she would tell her family, including her partner, Karen Kinney; her son, her mother and her three brothers and their families.
Taylor Kinney ended up running the mini-marathon by himself that year in his mother’s honor. Scott watched from the sidelines.
“It was extremely tough,” Taylor Kinney said. “I originally didn’t even want to do the marathon to begin with because of that, but she convinced me to do it, just to do it for her, so we could keep the tradition alive. So that was really tough going in. With her encouragement, and with her telling me to do it, I ended up doing it and finishing.”
Ovarian cancer is a silent killer since symptoms or warning signs aren’t easy to identify. Her stomach pains could have been something small like gaining weight, Scott thought. Instead, two grapefruit-sized tumors were growing in her abdomen for more than six months.
“There’s not a lot of symptoms, so it’s hard to diagnose it,” Scott said. “I had a stomach ache, it started being constant, and I kept thinking, ‘Well, maybe I’m gaining weight or I’m bloated.’ I didn’t know there were two grapefruits growing in my stomach.”
‘I still act like I’m 25’
ElMasri said he would try to get her into surgery in a month’s time, but Scott said the pain was so great that she couldn’t wait another month. Less than a week after getting the cancer diagnosis, she was in the operating room.During surgery, ElMasri noticed that the two tumors — one on her ovary and one right behind it — both had ruptured. One tumor was cancerous, and now cancerous cells were throughout Scott’s abdomen. As soon as ElMasri told her about the tumor rupturing, she knew exactly when that had happened, she said.“I remember the night that they did because it was like an explosion coming off of my side,” she said. “I was just on the floor that night of my bedroom, like a baby.”
ElMasri removed both tumors, and he was optimistic about Scott’s recovery now that the majority of the ovarian cancer was removed from her body.
“He got all the cancer out that he could see, except for the microscopic cells,” Scott said. “He was very elated. He told me, ‘If anybody can get through this, you can.’ Because I’m an athlete. I’m 54 now, but I still act like I’m 25, running around. A lot of people my age might not be healthy, but he said, ‘If anybody can beat it, you can.’”
Because of the microscopic cancerous cells in her body from the tumor rupturing, Scott had to undergo six chemotherapy sessions. That was when the real challenge began, she said.
“It kicked my butt,” Scott said. “I only had to do six rounds, every three weeks. But after the fifth one, I didn’t know if I could do another one.”
After spending a full day in the hospital for chemotherapy treatment, she would be out of commission for nearly 2½ weeks, she said. She then would have one or two good days, but then it would be time for another round of chemotherapy.
‘Clearing your mind’
During the first 10 days after each chemotherapy session, she couldn’t get out of bed.“It’s killing cancer cells, but it’s also killing a little bit of you at the same time,” Scott said.To cope with chemotherapy treatments, Scott decided she had to be active again. She has a competitive personality, and likes to do everything 100 percent. With both running and tennis out of the picture while recovering, she just started to walk.
“I used to never like to walk. I just thought that was boring,” Scott said. “Now I walk all the time, just because I know that part of it helped me through this entire process — not only physically but mentally, getting out, clearing your mind.”
At first, she would walk for only a few minutes before having to sit down. On more than a few occasions, she left the house to walk but then had to call a friend or family member to come pick her up because she didn’t have the strength to walk back home, she said.
After walking in her neighborhood, little by little, Scott wanted to fight back against her cancer — and hard.
“I set a lot of goals for myself. One was to get back on the tennis court so I could play with my friends. Within the same year (another goal was) get back to running the mini-marathon,” Scott said.
A few months after her last chemotherapy treatment, Scott decided to get back on the tennis court. At first, she could play for only 30 minutes at a time before becoming tired, she said. One time, she ended up passing out on the court due to two liters of fluid piling up in her body, a complication from her surgery, and cutting off circulation to a nerve in her side. She was admitted to the hospital.
In another instance, she got a fever and had to be hospitalized, a standard procedure for cancer patients since their immune system is weaker after chemotherapy.
‘I have to attack it’
Even then, Scott still was determined to get back to playing tennis with her friends and also running with her son in the mini-marathon in 2014.“Everyone was telling me, ‘You’re doing too much, you’re doing too much,’ especially since I went back to the hospital a couple of times,” Scott said. “This is how I have to approach it, how I have to attack it. I can’t just lay around and sit around. I think that’s how I recovered.”
Scott ended up winning four Indiana tennis tournaments within a year of her surgery and chemotherapy. By May 2014, she felt prepared to run at least part of the mini-marathon with her son. Taylor Kinney got a concussion while playing tennis less than a month before the race, so he couldn’t run, but encouraged his mother to do it now for him.
“A lot of people told me, ‘You don’t need to do that, you’ve gone through chemo,’ but it was important to me to finish,” Scott said. “He ran for me the year before, so I ran for him that year, but also for myself. It was important for me to just put that year behind me and have that feeling of crossing the finish line.”
She ultimately ran about four of the 13 miles, but once she crossed the finish line, she was ecstatic, she said. She still doesn’t feel like she’s back to her old self yet, but she’ll take the life she’s got since she was prepared to lose her life less than two years ago.
For the first time since 2012, both Taylor Kinney and Scott were able to run together in the mini-marathon this year.
“He’s faster than me, but he stayed with me the whole time,” Scott said. “We started it together. We finished it together. I think it just meant something that the last couple of years have been rough on all of us. It was a culmination of the physical things that had happened to us, and putting it behind us. We just enjoy doing it together.”
Name: Dana Scott
Date of diagnosis: May 2013
Type of cancer: Ovarian cancer
Treatment: Surgery at Community Hospital South, then six rounds of chemotherapy
What cancer taught me: Cancer taught me not to sweat the small stuff. I appreciate every day I can spend with those who love me most.
How cancer changed me: I think I went from being a pretty impatient person to being more patient, more appreciative of the people around me. I’m a more positive person.
What I would tell someone just diagnosed with cancer: Stay positive and have a great attitude. Let others help as you can’t do it alone. Be prepared to fight both mentally and physically. It’s the hardest battle you can imagine, and there will be ups and downs, but never give up because it is possible to beat cancer.